21 Dec

Happy Tears, Choices and the Hard Parts of Happiness

I just had a memorable week of work and play traveling to California and then Colorado. What made it memorable? The mix. If variety is the spice of life then my week was spicy but not picante version, the “full of flavor” version of spicy. Ok, I’m belaboring the point.

In his book “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” author Cal Newport talks about leveraging what he calls career capital. Cal defines career capital as “skills that are rare and valuable” and by leveraging it you can help define your career. Cal goes deeper to say you also create value to your clients to be leveraged for income (obviously) and by diversifying what goes into your unique blend of career capital you also create more choice.

What’s interesting about my trip was how the choices I can make with my own career capital played out in a grand mix of fun, pleasure, passion, purpose, service and even a few tears. That’s the fulfilled life. A dynamic mix of the fun and hard parts of happiness as shown below. What stands out for me where the choices I made from large to small over that week that brought so much happiness into my life.

During my first stop in Redding, California I hosted a workshop for the Chief Probation Officers of California. To get to Redding I chose to rent a car and for the first time drove through a new-to-me section of southern Oregon taking me by Mount Shasta. A fun treat.

These probation Chiefs oversee the very hard work of probation in their county and I was invited to attend their awards luncheon which preceded my workshop. And I’m so glad I attended! My Restless nature, also a way I self-sabotage, had me thinking I should use the luncheon time to finish emails, prep more for the workshop, etc. Instead, I chose to sit, stay present at the luncheon and I was rewarded with the remarkable introductions and speeches of awardees from organizations throughout California.

One awardee stands out above the rest though. As Joey walked up to the stage, I could tell something was different. The suit was different, how he held himself was different and I didn’t know what would come next. Joey then shared his story of a 25-year life sentence from the three strikes rule. He honored why he was in San Quentin, in the powerful words “I made people into victims.” Ugh, to say those words. Joey was now out of prison and oddly enough back San Quentin as a paid “peer advocate” supporting incarcerated people and helping them ready for life after their imprisonment.

His story was beautiful and yet tragic at the same time. When Joey received the award I didn’t want to applaud, I wanted to flip the luncheon table and roar in support. Instead, I chose not to make a spectacle of myself (this one time only) and applauded loudly with happy tears. If I had listened to the voices telling me to leave the room and go work I would have missed a chance at happiness.


On to Sacramento for a weekend with two old friends from my time in Florida. Bike rides around downtown, mid-town and well, basically the entire town of Sacramento. A good choice. Then a flight to Colorado to speak at the kick-off event for CO West Companies. I’ve worked with CO West multiple times over the past few years and have gotten a chance to develop relationships with their team of Directors and support them in their effort to build a great culture.
I had three words to share with them as the initial framing for where happiness can be found in our work: “Pleasure. Purpose. Pride.” Borrowed from the awesome work of Dan Beuttner, author of Blue Zones of Happiness. And organically, before I even spoke the CEO, the CIO both used the words pride in their speeches and those that followed me echoed the same word “pride”. And one leader, dealing with her own personal adversity stepped up to speak and her entire team roared for her. Pride! Happy tears.

And finally, before returning home…a talk for Legends Senior Living with the goal of inspiring adult caregivers who do the hard work of happiness caring for their aging parents. I could have taken the easy road on this presentation and pulled an old presentation off the shelf with a few tweaks but instead I chose to go deep. I shared the story of my own parents and Aunts who cared for my aging grandparents at home knowing they would never want to be “in a home.” The caregiving was HARD. I reveled in the nostalgic moments of my grandparents impact in my life. During the talk I honored my parents, my now passed-on grandparents and those who do what I categorize the hard parts of happiness captured so well in these simple words by my Mother, who cared for my other grandfather.
“Caregiving is a vicious cycle. They’re forgetful, you get angry at them, you feel guilty about getting angry with them, you love them….I’m glad I did it but it wasn’t easy.” – Momma

Good words Momma.

Back on a plane to Bend, Oregon. Arriving back in my new home and to my new tribe of friends, back to improv, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Bend. A deep sense of belonging in my short year in Oregon. A deep sense of service and a sense of community.
The final event last week being the Boys & Girls Clubs board meeting and holiday party and I almost didn’t go because of the weather. That night, three of our outgoing Board members shared their emotional stories was a deep reminder of the hard parts of happiness in Board service. Powerful words on their personal “why” with each holding back emotions. Barely. All connected deeply to their service towards something greater than oneself. Happy tears.

What an incredible week. I’m glad I chose to engage with the opportunities for happiness available to me.


Happiness is often right in front of you. You have to choose to see it and step towards it and be a participant in the opportunities. And what might be in front of you is choice to embrace the hard parts of happiness. And those hard parts of service, commitment, relationships, and progress which will often feel clunky and uncomfortable. In retrospect we see, and can savor, those unsuspected opportunities for happiness in our lives.

Over the holidays we have so many choices and happiness is so often about intentional action on your part. What will you choose?

Anthony Poponi is an energetic presenter, a jokester from birth, and self-admitted lover of downtowns as much as wild spaces. He specializes in putting joy in our workplaces and in our communities through workshops and keynotes that leave his audiences buzzing. Being a hard act to follow on stage is always his goal.

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